make a parts washer

Homemade BMW motorcycle parts washer (car parts too)

by Duane Ausherman

This page is in response to several requests for information about my homemade parts washer.

Build your own parts washer cheaply and easily.  Since I had recently retired (1975) from a BMW dealership, I found that I was spoiled with having a Safety Kleen parts washer.  I was lost without my parts washer.  So I built this one over 40 years ago while living in Fort Bidwell, Ca.    Caution, use only approved environmentally safe solvents.

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It consists of only a few basic parts.  I used a sink that I found in a stream bed after a flood washed it down from the old ghost gold mining town.  It sits on a homemade frame made with angle iron from old bed frames salvaged from the dump.  The tank is a standard 15-gallon drum barrel with a top that has a standard bung hole in its center.

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This shows the plumbing adapters I needed to reduce the sink drain to a reasonable size and dump it into the tank.

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This photo shows a top view of the tank.  The second bucket is a 5-gallon paint type.  It has many holes punched into the bottom for the solvent to flow through. I use three layers of any soft cloth (old “T” shirts work well) cut in a circle and lying at the bottom.  The inner bucket is a one-gallon paint bucket with holes in its bottom and only one more round cloth as a filter.  I change it more often than the larger one.  The dirty solvent must pass through a grate in the sink, through the first filter in the one-gallon bucket, through the three layers of the filter cloth in the 5-gallon bucket, and then into the 15-gallon barrel.  It works well at keeping the solvent looking clear.

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Here you can see the pump.  The pump sits immersed in the bottom of the barrel.  The first pump was whatever I found lying around, but it failed after only 6-8 years.  This one is a Little Giant pump that I bought from WW Grainger for $15.  It lasted about 18 years and only broke recently (2001) when I pulled it out to photograph it for this page.  See the broken outlet in the upper left? Just about any pump will work just great.  I just replaced the exact pump but slightly improved it for $70.  Not so cheap.

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Since I do things for pleasure, I sometimes go a bit crazy.  Here you see the bottom of one of the legs.  It can be adjusted with the bolts to sit steadily on uneven concrete.  All four legs are adjustable.

You can see that I spent a lot of money on this parts washer 🙂  There is nothing fancy about a parts cleaner.  Find any sink.  You could fasten it on the wall and not need a frame.  Don’t mount it on the 15-gallon barrel like Safety Kleen does, as that is too low unless you are under 5′ tall.  Make anything to filter the solvent.  I keep my “old” solvent and often use it for soaking and pre-cleaning nasty parts.  That way, my current solvent stays clean much longer.  I bought a 55-gallon drum from Chevron over 25 years ago and am now using the last of it.  It has been my only real expense.  The flexible nozzle and hose is an official one from a real parts washer that my old Safety Kleen service guy gave me.  I turn it on with a standard wall switch.  If I were to build this today, I would use a footswitch.  I used a ground fault type outlet for the parts cleaner.  I painted everything on it one day when I was painting other things.  I have a backsplash made from an old metal sign.  I used whatever I had as I was over 50 miles from any supply place.  Besides, I like to improvise.  Research and use only approved solvents.

Another homemade parts washer.  Scroll down to the end.  You might get enough ideas to build one yourself.

The environmental nazis got us again.

Recently I have noticed that this page is getting a lot of readers.  I was wondering why, but I think I have it.  I recently ran out of the 55-gallon drum of solvent that I purchased 30 years ago.  I went over to my local auto shop and asked them what to use.  I got an earful.  About mid-2004, California outlawed commercial solvent machine service.  Safety Kleen is not servicing this area now.  My friends bought a solvent machine and did their own servicing.  They have tried a variety of solvents.  The  “legal” water-soluble stuff doesn’t work well.  They are now using “illegal” Mineral Spirits (paint thinner) from the local discount place.  I tried it, and it works well.  My guess is that you are reading this because you have been forced to seek an alternative.

Let me see if I understand it.  We used to have a lot of solvent machines in repair places serviced by a company that had to follow environmental laws.  Now they are out of business, and we have these same shops doing their servicing with whatever procedures they choose.  Did we shoot ourselves in the foot again?  Are we better off?

Updated 30 March 2023